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Contempt for the scientific revolutionary? August 8, 2010

Posted by Simon in Uncategorized.
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I’ve been reading through everything I can find about the Mars meteorite controversy (to keep things simple, from now on I’ll just refer to the meteorite as ALH84001, which is the meteorite’s ‘official’ name*). I’ll go into more detail later, but the brief version is that in 1996, David McKay from NASA announced that ALH84001 contained a number of signs that indicated bacterial life was once present in the rock. It didn’t take long for other scientists to start attacking the claims, and the dispute got very heated.

Obviously I’m not the first person to look into this story, and one source that looks interesting is Kathy Sawyer’s 2006 book “The Rock from Mars: A Detective Story on Two Planets”. American Scientist magazine reviewed the book here, and one thing that immediately caught my eye was this passage from the review, discussing the way the scientific community treated McKay and his research group:

What they had to endure is described, with surprising frankness, by one of their detractors, who is quoted in the chapter titled “At Daggers Drawn” as saying that the McKay group “felt that they were being mistreated when in fact they were being treated with the same contempt [as] . . . anybody that would try and shake up the current paradigm.” Apparently contempt is viewed as a perfectly normal and appropriate response to anyone who thinks outside the box.

I was surprised to see a scientist in the middle of a controversy so aware of his place in Kuhn’s theory!

*ALH for Allan Hills, the area of Antarctica where it was found; 84 for 1984 – the year it was discovered; and 001 because it was the first one discovered that year.

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